Sunday, January 23, 2005

Loo… and behold

Every once in a while, the Administration department at my workplace feels the need to do something dramatic to make its presence felt. The most recent act has been to ration toilet paper.

Now, this might sound facile, but it’s bloody infuriating. Consider the maths: roughly 60 women on the floor + powerful a/c’s + 3 toilets. And given my penchant for bad timing, a familiar sight greets me each time I step into the washroom – bins overflowing with toilet paper, but not a shred of it on the holder.

The fascist notice stuck on the washroom door reads, ‘It has been brought to our notice that people are wasting toilet paper to wipe hands and feet. Henceforth, toilet paper will be replaced every three hours only ie at 12.30, 3:30… etc.'

Considering the hand dryer doesn’t work and there are no paper napkins, it follows that people will use the only available paper to wipe hands, face, feet etc. But what irks me most (after the absence of toilet paper) is the seriousness with which Admin regards toilet paper. It’s toilet paper, for crying out aloud. Limited utility, non-recyclable, flimsy toilet paper. If you can’t trust employees with toilet paper, how do you entrust them with business worth crores? Talk about perspective!

While a trip to the washroom usually puts me in ill humour, there’s something that unexpectedly cheers me. It’s the view from the tiny window there. (It seems I also have a penchant for being in workplaces which have interesting views from the loo window. In a previous office, the washroom window offered a scintillating view of the setting sun, unobscured by concrete or foliage. ‘Going to watch the sunset’ became a favourite euphemism for the other business.)

The toilet-paperless washroom overlooks the primary section of a school, and affords an easy glimpse into a couple of classrooms. If I squint a bit, I can even read what’s on the blackboard. Sometimes, there’s a low drone, indicating a class in progress. At other times, there’s a high-pitched chant; sometimes a teacher’s voice thunders. Once I noticed most of the children out in the corridor. I assumed it was a free class. But then, the teacher walked into view. She stood out in the corridor chatting casually with some of the children. What intrigued me, was the way she spoke and listened to them, almost as if they were adults. An old woman, who looked like the school cleaner, came up and started shepherding the children into the class. The girls went in, but the boys continued to cavort outside. The teacher didn’t seem bothered by the ruckus.

I was thoroughly absorbed in this idyllic scene from my unusual vantage point, when I heard a discreet knock on the door. It was the washroom attendant waiting to replace the toilet paper.

Friday, January 14, 2005


‘I’ve really been training for the marathon,’ said a colleague yesterday.

I looked up impressed, as did a few others.

He continued, smugly, ‘I’ve been taking the stairs for the last two days.’

I fell off the chair laughing. Our department is on the 2nd floor. And if climbing two storeys amounted to marathon training, walking up to the canteen on the 6th floor, would probably put him in line to climb Everest.

Smug colleague isn’t the only one training for what seems to be the biggest social event of 2005. Dabbawalas, senior citizens, celebrities, socialites and thousands of others are all gearing up for January 16. Imagine the clatter of 25,000 pairs of feet on Marine Drive!

Runner No. 21769 is not very excited, though…

As a result of a goof up, I’ve been signed on for the 7 km Dream Run. Having done the Half Marathon last year, where’s the motivation to do one third the distance, and that too while being elbowed, and possibly stamped over, by 20,000 people.

Oh well, that’s just a rationalisation. I’ve haven’t been training for the Half Marathon anyway. Last year, it took one month of concentrated physical and mental preparation, and an insane amount of co-ordination just to find a place where one could run without encumbrances. I tried Azad Maidan once and it was quite an experience. I got chased by dogs, stumbled over canoodling couples and lost my footing several times on the uneven, unlit ground. If I were training for the obstacle course, Azad Maidan would’ve been perfect.

Thankfully, Oval Maidan turned out to be a better alternative. It actually had a running track, lined with palm trees that swayed lazily in the evening breeze. The Rajabhai Clock Tower nearby kept perfect time. And running, while watching the city recede into the night, was as sublime an experience as any.

It strikes me that the city has such few open spaces where people can run without having to dodge traffic, other people and not to forget, animals. Running on a treadmill for anything over half an hour can be desperately boring. And while running on the beach sounds dreamy, the sanitation leaves a lot to be desired.

So, just maybe, Smug Colleague had the right idea. See, that’s another reason why I couldn’t train. I live on the ground floor…

Monday, January 10, 2005

Thanks for the tip

Whatever happened to the unobtrusive salesperson? The kind who stay in the shadows and only spring to assistance when you call on them? These days department stores are swarming with irrepressibly cheerful and ingratiatingly over-helpful sorts, who simply take charge of your shopping.

“Ma’am, this colour really suits you. And you must take these matching shoes as well… No shoes? (shocked expression) Ok, what about this bag, then… No? Some perfume then...”

Then, there are the gratuitous advice givers. “Can’t make up your mind, ma’am? Take both. You can wear this one to work and this to a party.”

A couple of days ago, I had completed my shopping and was standing in the check-out queue, when I realised – quite happily – that I hadn’t been accosted by one know-it-all salesperson. I made a mental note to frequent this place more often. I scribbled my signature on the credit card slip, took my bags and headed for the exit, when the billing executive called out to me.

I turned to see him peering at the credit card slip. A slow thudding began in the region of my chest. Had I signed incorrectly? Was there an anomaly in my credit card account? Did I look like a forger? My mind tossed up every remote possibility.

He looked up and beckoned to me, even as others in the queue turned to stare. I felt like a fugitive.

“Madam, just a minute...”
he called out loudly.

“Yes, what’s it?”
I croaked nervously.

“Hope you won’t mind if I tell you this…”

I shook my head vigorously. I am innocent, my mind screamed silently.

“See, you’ve signed your name here and then you’ve drawn a line under it backwards. You know what that means?”

My unblinking, saucer-like gaze accurately conveyed that I didn’t.

“It means that you make progress in life but then you throw it all away; you go backwards in life. Hope you don’t mind me telling you this.”

I stared at him, my thoughts alternating between relief (that I wasn’t going to be arrested), embarrassment (at being pegged as a ‘backward’ person) and seething fury at his superfluous ‘advice’.

I swept out of the store with as much dignity as my red face could muster. I was outside before I noticed the unexpected object in my hand. It was a rather fine and expensive looking roller ball pen. Quite unlike the cheap plastic pens that stores usually offer you to sign credit card slips. I couldn’t help smiling. For someone whose life had purportedly been blighted by a ‘backward signature’, I had nimble fingers.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy new beginnings

The tragedy has crept eerily close. A very close friend lost five members of her extended family in Sri Lanka. Only a 9-year old nephew survived. Life has to go on, for his sake, says my friend. But life won’t be the same.

On another level, life surely hasn’t been the same in the last few days. Never before has there been such a collective outpouring of empathy and aid. From convicts in Tihar jail to rickshaw pullers in Chennai to innumerable ordinary citizens (bloggers included), everybody has been a part of the collective relief effort. Most remarkable is the fact that the disaster has shattered decade long standoffs between insurgents and their governments. If ever proof was needed that the world could work together as one, then this is it.

As Spaceman Spiff puts it, ‘Wish 2005 will be a year when nature doesn’t have to turn so militant in order to bring us humans together'.

Wish you all a happy and peace-filled New Year.

P. S. Just wanted to share a Japanese Folk Tale with you.